4.17.2018

zombie


My son plays iPad games, and occasionally I play with him.  One of the games is Plants vs Zombies 2 (PvZ2).  In this game, the player beats back a horde of zombies with plant-shooting peas, exploding potato mines, and other plant-based weaponry.  It's a strategy game mixed with a reflex game.  I find it highly addictive, so much so that through the Winter, I would play for an hour or two in the late evening to decompress from the day, sitting on the couch, legs propped up on the coffee table.

It's just a game, but within every game is an analogue.  Zombies appear to be the monster of our cultural moment, perhaps because in post-modernity we can relate to them.  We are disconnected from reality, driving like automatons, zombies in governance, in capitalist business, looking at our cell phones incessantly and to distraction, without intuition, lacking humanity, and our only goal is consumption (brains, anyone?), without a sense of stewardship, history, culture, or taste.

I think the lesson in this is that post-modernity is not for everyone.  Identities are fractured, morals are relative, and we are distracted by so many stimuli, electronic or otherwise, that it is becoming impossible to retain coherency, or be active rather than reactive, and to beat back the stress of multi-tasking.  At a certain point, we can no longer process all the input in an organized way and instead become like a zombified Auntie Mame as a phone operator.

This post is dedicated to Delores O'Riordian (d. 2018), who wrote the song "Zombie", one of the most annoying songs of the 90's.  Perhaps she died because no one heeded her call that was impossible to wring from your head, or perhaps because we internalized it and became what she feared most.

4.10.2018

Exception, not the Rule

Exception, not the Rule

There are two ways in which we are essentially helpless.  We don't get to choose our parents, and we don't get to choose our time to live in.  All we know is now, and now, by any measure of quality of life, is pretty good.

Which makes it all the more necessary to say is that the quality of life available to me, and probably to you, today, is the exception, not the rule.  

For instance, participatory democracy in the span of human history, has been the exception, not the rule.  More common forms of government have been oppressive, intolerant, and authoritarian, with the spoils of life enjoyed by far fewer than those who have Netflix accounts today.

The justice system and legal codes of today are the exception, not the rule throughout human history.  More common would be an entire lack of anything even approaching justice or even shadows of fairness based on evidence or legal consistency.

Our lack of pervasive hunger is the exception, not the rule.  Throughout history, far fewer people have been able to eat as regularly as I do, and when they have eaten, they've consumed far fewer calories of poorer nutrition.

The fact that we live in a developed country where is is indoor plumbing and consistent access to electricity is the exception, not the rule.  To anyone who enjoys the beauty of camping, imagine the squatting over a hole as your ancestors did for millennia.

Average life expectancy worldwide is about 72, and much higher in the US.  Track that back a thousand years to a less developed world, and life expectancy drops to 30.   Take away all the comforts, medications, technologies, and life-extending procedures of today, and suddenly many of your friends and colleague pass away before you would have had your quarter-life crisis.  

That gays and lesbians are publicly out in society and active in the community as couples and as individuals is the exception, not the rule.

All the comforts that I know today, from artisinal breweries, to a day-care system, not to mention addictive social media, these are all exceptions to the long duration of human history.  Even the word processing program I'm using to type this essay, Microsoft Word, again, the exception, not the rule.  What would the world be like without supermarkets where I can buy any food item instantly and affordably.  This is an exception, not the rule.

Transportation, utilities, banks, motor vehicles, air travel, golf clubs, I could go on.  All exceptions, not the rule.  We continue to move forward as a society because of access to cheap energy.  We fight for an America that is free from fascism because we have the time and leisure to do so.  If we were in the fields or in the factory all day, who would be left to fight against Trump?  We can see how China uses oppression, surveillance, and an authoritarian penal system to quash dissent and ensure regulation of society.  If we hold our ideals near, are we so comfortable that we have forgotten the past when life's challenges went well beyond our "first-world problems"?

If you care about protecting freedom, teach your children about your parents, and your parents' parents, and the struggles that they endured.  Then wake up with a fighting spirit and do something revolutionary every day.  I'm not going to tell you what that is.  It could be a small act of kindness for which there is no gratitude and no reward. But you need to define that for yourself.

3.07.2018

blind man can see it

So if you read this blog you know i am all about peak oil and fears of resource depletion.  like the james brown tune in the blog title, the fact that we are depleting natural resources at a furious and unsustainable rate should be so obvious that a blind man can see it. we are banking on the fact that other fuels substitute in as we deplete the earth's oil and coal and natural gas but i worry that the scale at which the global economy operates may result in massive dislocations instead of a smooth substitution.

but perhaps equally important has been the sociological changes that have resulted in the last ten years with the advent of the smartphone.  suddenly, we are constantly connected, constantly informed, constantly distracted.  our necks now permanently tilt downwards towards a screen.

we might like to pretend that societal institutions like the family, religion, civic organizations, are still alive and healthy, but they're not.  family, in the old judeo-christian sense, feels like an outdated construction along with it requisite morality.

my theory is that every piece of communication is a tie, or a bond.  so if in the past (meaning pre-2007) our ties and bonds were in real life, with the occasional telephone call or email, now there are thousands of communication data points intersecting with our lives every week from many sources (facebook, instagram, texting, snapchat, 24/7 workaholism, etc.).  the family, and the old school institutions, have been diluted to the point of irrelevance.  everyone is constantly tired, because everyone is constantly on and working, even kids, to the point of screen addiction.

i say all this not to scare or bemoan, but simply to recognize that the sociological changes we are going through are so massive that a blind man could see it.  i believe this is on par with the advent of the city in the 1800s and the attendant alienation and anomie that first was "discovered" as a sociological consequence by Durkheim and Simmel.  we are different now, and i fear that short of trading your smartphone for a flip phone, there is no going back.

3.06.2018

always reachable

we are now in a zone where we are always reachable for work.  i am constantly connected to work by phone, text, email, and Square dashboard.  there is never a time when i am not connected.  i have toyed around with the idea of shutting off my phone and just turning it on every hour to see what comes in.  but i always have one foot in emergency mode because there is never a time when an emergency might not come in.  i guess we have all become doctors on-call.

my phone was stolen three years ago and i waiting for a week while it was replaced.  it was the best week.  i felt so much less stressed, less neurotic.  it's hard to imagine the 80's and 90's now, a time when i would only get news with the morning paper and the evening CBS news.

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1.07.2018

The Electric Power of Life

Having felt low on occasion, there are times when the surging breath of life has entered my body and left me with feelings of connectedness, happiness, and euphoria.  But that is nothing like the feeling of falling off of a ladder and breaking my arm in a place that was highly protected by muscle and snapped the ulna in a way that sent me into shock.  The amount of adrenaline that was released was as if I was shot through with energy and had tapped full bore into the electric power of life.  It was like nothing I'd ever experienced.

To say that we live mundane lives filled with the endless arithmetic of grocery shopping, baby rearing, and trips to the library is to forget this intense animal will to survive that is the evolutionary product of millennia.  Faced with the prospect of death (and going into shock really does feel like you may die, you feel as if you cannot breathe and may pass out at any time), we fight, and as painful as the experience was, to feel your life is in the balance is to know that you are capable of anything, and that the surging will propels us forward with an intensity that is equal to the nature of any situation.